Facebook is Holding Your Data Hostage

If you haven’t already heard, you should expect a ransom note from Facebook any day now. It might read something like this: “We have your data, stick with us or forever lose it.”

OK. Things might not play out so dramatically, but the big social media events of the last few days (I’m talking about Google+, of course) seem to have inspired panic in the ranks at Facebook.

Mashable is reporting that Facebook is actively blocking a Google Chrome plugin that allows you to export your friend list (contact info) for use on other platforms. I’ve written about this kind of digital lock-in in previous posts. Digital lock-in is problematic because it decreases a users ability to freely choose which web service to use (e.g. Facebook versus Google+), by preventing a user from exporting her data from the service. In this case, by preventing users from exporting their friend lists Facebook is really trying to prevent you from using their competitors’ services.

Google’s announcement of Google+, their Facebook-like social networking service, must have Facebook on the defensive (big time), in large part because Google+ is promising its users a suite of privacy controls that Facebook has denied its users for years. This latest strong-arm tactic can only be interpreted as a tacit recognition of the threat that Google+ poses to Facebook.

More problematically, Facebook’s decision to block users from exporting their contact list (a feature that is almost universal among mainstream communication services, including Gmail, which I’ve written about here) is an indication of the depths to which Facebook is willing to sink to prevent the erosion of their user base.

I suspect Facebook’s decision will backfire. It should be no surprise that people just don’t Like having their data held hostage. Actively preventing people from leaving their service might actually motivate a mass exodus, much like the privacy debacle in 2010 that spurred the Quit Facebook Day group into action.

So Come on Facebook – If you Like us, set our data free!

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